Extract from Peter Clines' EX-PURGATORY

Thanks to the folks at Broadway Books, here's an excerpt from Peter Clines' Ex-Purgatory. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

When he’s awake, George Bailey is just an ordinary man. Five days a week he coaxes his old Hyundai to life, curses the Los Angeles traffic, and clocks in at his job as a handyman at the local college.

But when he sleeps, George dreams of something more.

George dreams of flying. He dreams of fighting monsters. He dreams of a man made of pure lightning, an armored robot, a giant in an army uniform, a beautiful woman who moves like a ninja.

Then one day as he’s walking from one fix-it job to the next, a pale girl in a wheelchair tells George of another world, one in which civilization fell to a plague that animates the dead…and in which George is no longer a glorified janitor, but one of humanity’s last heroes.

Her tale sounds like madness, of course. But as George’s dreams and his waking life begin bleeding together, he starts to wonder—which is the real world, and which is just fantasy?


They boarded up the window and Jarvis had new assignments for each of them. Mark had the truck, so he headed off to the far side of campus to deal with a blown fuse in another dorm. George had to go check on an abandoned couch in the middle of one of the parking lots. Day one and people were already abandoning furniture.

He found the couch right where it was supposed to be. He’d half hoped in the fifteen minutes it took him to get there some frustrated undergrad or parent would do the job for him. No such luck.

The threadbare piece of furniture had to be at least twenty years old. George understood why it had been abandoned. It was so ratty Goodwill wouldn’t touch it. It sat kitty-corner along the dividing line of two spaces. One end was far enough out to make a third space awkward to use. As he walked up, one car proved that fact with an impressive seven-point turn.

“Who the hell brings a couch to college?” he muttered. He looked at the dumpster, sitting fifty yards away at the far end of the parking lot.

He gave the couch a tug and found out why no one had moved it. It had a foldaway bed, complete with steel frame, springs, and extra mattress. On a guess, it weighed three or four hundred pounds.

George had a few more thoughts about the couch’s former owner as he yanked the cushions off and walked them to the dumpster. It was only a couple of pounds, but he figured every bit would help. He set them in the grass next to the steel bin on the off chance someone came running out to claim ownership before he threw the whole thing away.

The couch was still unclaimed when he got back to it. He sighed, bent his knees, and heaved one end up. It wasn’t as heavy as he’d first thought. It went up on one end with no problem. He looked at the metal framework between the legs and wondered if maybe it was aluminum rather than steel.

A sedan beeped at him. The driver, an Asian man, gestured at the still-inaccessible space. “Can you get that out of the way,” he called out to George, “so we can park?” The teenage passenger looked mortified. She winced and mouthed an apology through her window.

“Sorry,” George said. “Just a second.”

He decided to risk trying to lift the couch to his shoulder. It felt pretty light, and it was far enough away from the parked cars he was pretty sure he’d miss them if he had to drop it. He gave the upright couch a tug, knelt, and caught it on his shoulder. His arms wrapped around it and lifted.

The couch came off the ground. It wobbled on his shoulder for a moment and he steadied it with his hands. He took a few steps and it didn’t tip. His back didn’t twinge, either. He’d caught it at that perfect balance point where it seemed to weigh nothing. He turned until the dumpster came into his field of view, then started across the parking lot.

When he reached the dumpster he let the couch settle forward until one end sat on the rim. He worked his way backward, trying not to tear his shirt on the metal frame, until he had the other end in his hands. He heaved again. Gravity grabbed the couch and flipped it into the dumpster with a loud clang.

Slow applause broke out behind him. George turned and saw Nick leaning against his BMW. His friend was still wearing office clothes. The Beemer was parked in the center of the lot, blocking at least half a dozen cars.

“Very impressive,” said Nick. He clapped a few more times, but his head was turned back to watch the young Asian woman unloading the backseat of the sedan.

“Don’t ogle the students,” said George.

“I’m not ogling,” said Nick, “I’m appreciating. Look at those legs. I’m betting swimmer or gymnast.”

Nick was two inches shorter than George, but made up for it with attitude. His dark hair was spiked out and his eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses that probably cost more than George made in a week.

“So what brings you to campus?”

“I know I’m not supposed to be here,” said Nick, “but I needed to talk to you. I need a favor.”

“And you drove over here rather than called because . . . ?”

“It’s a face-to-face, look-you-in-the-eyes kind of favor.”

“Great,” said George. “Take the glasses off.”

“Hah. Hah,” said Nick. A bad blood transfusion a few years back had left his eyes sensitive to light. He never took his sun glasses off outside, and rarely inside. “Coldplay at the Bowl next Thursday.”

“It sold out, didn’t it?”

“Yes it did. And my boss got a set of complimentary tickets this morning and doesn’t want them, so—score. I’m taking Nita and you need to be my wingman because her college roommate’s in town.”

“Which one’s Nita?”

“The publicist.” Even as he said it, Nick glanced over his shoulder again. The young woman was walking across the lot with a swollen backpack over one shoulder and a suitcase in ei ther hand. “Damn, she is really cute.”


“Fine.” The dark glasses turned back to George.

“So that’s it? You need a wingman?”


“What’s the catch?”

“I’m asking you to spend the night with a woman you have absolutely no chance with so I can spend the night with a woman I have a pretty good chance with.”

George frowned. “That far out of my league?”

“More like you’re that far out of her circles of interest.”

“So you’re setting me up with a lesbian?”

Nick shook his head. “I’m not setting you up because we’re all acknowledging there’s no chance of anything happening. I’m just asking you to keep a third wheel occupied.”

George smiled and shook his head. “Are you buying drinks?”

“I got the tickets.”

“Someone gave you the tickets. And don’t you want to impress Nita the publicist with what a generous, high-powered agent you are?”

“That’s not how I’m hoping to impress her,” said Nick. “Fine, I’ve got you covered, don’t worry about it. You in?”

George drummed his fingers on his thigh. “Yeah, sure.”

Nick smiled and pulled out his phone. “Excellent. I’ll lock things down with her right now.”

“Hey,” called a man. He stood by one of the cars Nick’s Beemer was blocking. “D’you mind moving?”

Nick gave the man a quick wave and opened his door. “Talk more later,” he said to George. “You want to meet up tomorrow night? Grab a drink or three?”

“Maybe.” His Nextel chirped and he pulled it off his belt. He and Nick saluted each other with their phones.

The Nextel chirped again. “You there, George?”

George waved good-bye and the Beemer pulled out of the lot. “Yeah, what’s up, Jarvis?”

“You need any help with that couch?”

“Nah, no problem.”

“Get yourself back here, then. I need you to sign your time card.”

George checked the time on the phone. Half an hour until quitting time, and if Jarvis was calling him back to the office there wasn’t anything left to do. Nothing that could be done in half an hour, anyway.

As he walked across campus he debated telling Jarvis about the falling glass. He didn’t want to lose a day with an unneces sary doctor’s visit. On the other hand, he knew a couple of people who’d held off mentioning injuries they thought were minor only to get a hassle from workers’ comp later when they turned out to be serious.

Of course, as far as he could tell, the big blade of glass hadn’t left any injuries, minor or otherwise.

George slipped past two families chattering away about classes and dorm life. Someone was already blasting music out of a window. A young man whipped past him on a bicycle.

He’d have to mention the shirtsleeve. It was too slashed up for a quick fix. He’d have to replace it. That would give him a chance to get the incident on record without actively claiming an injury.

A crowd of people approached. At least two or three families. They had the absent, flitting expressions of people trying to take in a lot of details while not really paying attention.

George stepped off the concrete path to go around them. If he picked up the pace he could be back in the office in under ten minutes. There was a slim chance Jarvis would even let him punch out early.

Then his stomach dropped. He’d forgotten to move his car. A day’s pay just vanished to a parking ticket, assuming it hadn’t been towed. The crowd passed and revealed a woman in a wheelchair. She looked up at him and her face shifted. As George stepped back on the path he moved to the left and gave her a quick nod. He wanted to be sure she knew he saw her and wasn’t going to col lide.

She tugged on the wheels of her chair, rolling it back into his way. He caught himself before banging his shins on the wide wheel. His legs jammed up for a second and he came to a stop.

The young woman had large eyes and dark hair that passed her shoulders. Her skin was the pale hue of someone who never got outside. A look of relief broke across her face as she stared at him. “Oh, thank God,” she said. “It’s you.”

George smiled. The price of wearing a uniform and an ID badge was everyone assumed you were there to help, but it didn’t really bother him. “What can I do for you?”

“I wasn’t a hundred percent sure you’d be here,” she said. “I thought I remembered you saying once that you worked here be fore, so I figured it’d be the best place to start looking. Mom and Dad weren’t happy with me switching schools at the last minute. I’ve been looking for you ever since we got here.”

He blinked. “Sorry,” he said. “Do we know each other?”

“George,” the young woman said, “it’s me. Madelyn.”

He blinked and looked at her. There weren’t many students he was on a first-name basis with, and he didn’t remember any in a wheelchair. Then he had the awful thought that maybe the young woman hadn’t been in a wheelchair the last time he saw her. He studied her face and tried to guess her height if she was standing.

She stared back at him and then her face fell. “Damn it,” she said. “You don’t remember anything, do you?”

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